The record-breaking run wasn’t Jawon Hamilton’s objective when he took the first-quarter handoff.
“I’m just trying to get positive yards and get out of that territory,” Hamilton, the James Madison senior running back, explained.
With the Dukes backed up on their own 1-yard line during the opening quarter of their first-round playoff game against VMI on Saturday, Hamilton set new marks for the longest run in JMU and FCS postseason history with his 99-yard sprint from one purple-shaded end zone into the other.
His rushing score stood as the game’s first points in third-seeded JMU’s 31-24 win over VMI.
It also shattered the previous program-long run of 95 yards set by Joe Sparksman during a 1990 game against William & Mary as well as the subdivision’s former postseason-long run of 93 yards set by ex-Monmouth running back Pete Guerriero against JMU in last season’s second round.
“I want to applaud the offensive line,” Hamilton said. “I was able to get the ball, press it in there and then I looked to the right and saw all this space to run and so I was like, ‘Oh man. Let’s go.’ So I hit it, kept running and I looked at the big screen, saw all the space and I saw Solomon [Vanhorse] running behind me. He made a key block and I knew I was good then.”
Hamilton and Dukes coach Curt Cignetti praised Vanhorse for his effort on the run. Vanhorse, featured in the two-back set used for the first time this spring, cut off VMI defensive back Aljareek Malry from pursuing Hamilton from behind.
“That was a huge play,” Cignetti said. “I mean, I’ve only seen a 99-yard touchdown run one other time in my life and that was Tony Dorsett on Monday Night Football against the Vikings. And that was a long time ago.
“I mean, [Hamilton] sped out of there and I knew he had a chance. Then, here came Vanhorse and he made a key block. Vanhorse outran everybody, made a key block and there was never any doubt after that.”
Hamilton said VMI’s defense loaded the box to stop the run throughout the game, but wasn’t prepared to see the two-back set.
“I know for a fact you guys haven’t seen that at all this spring season,” Hamilton said. “So with me and Solomon in at the same time, I’m sure it’s very confusing because you don’t know who will get the ball. We put that in and it worked.”
Hamilton rushed for a game-high and career-best 171 yards. He and Percy Agyei-Obese, who carried for 110 yards, became the first pair of JMU rushers to each eclipse 100 yards on the ground in the same game for the first time since Nov. 23, 2019, when they did it against Rhode Island.